“Ah, boundaries, how I love thee. You saved my life and made me whole.” –-Me
Here’s a personal story. When I was a young adult (probably during my drug using years), I had a vivid dream of being a spiritual being. Visually, I was disembodied, maybe a glowing entity like I saw on Star Trek way back when. I especially felt happy in this dream as there were big parts of my childhood that I felt unhappy about, parts I wanted to escape.
I felt clever and special, even a little bit powerful, as I wasn’t limited to my physical situation anymore. The romantic part of this visual was that I saw others like that as well, and when we interacted, it was this lovely intermingling of our auras/clouds. The times we connected made our lights brighter, more vibrant. I didn’t dwell on this idea, but it was in the back of my mind for quite a while.
It turned out to be a bit of a shock when I found myself in the throes of self-pity, how often I felt victimized, powerless, and overly dependent on others. In my mid-30s, things were falling apart — my job, my marriage, my physical and mental health… It was at this time that I came to understand codependence (which some say is at the root of all addiction). I also came to understand the necessity of boundaries.
It turns out that boundaries are all over the place, I just didn’t think they applied to me. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful, I just hadn’t seen the value of them yet. Learning what they were, and how I could apply them to my life, was a game changer. Not only did my life improve, but so did my child’s. Also, every other relationship I was involved in also improved. Here’s why:
The primary effect of a boundary is an understanding of where the responsibility for someone, or something, ends.
A fence helps mark where two properties end. It doesn’t prevent things from crossing over, but there’s a clear indication when a line is crossed. The attitude between the two property owners can determine how things are resolved, but (usually) there’s no argument over the placement of the fence, especially when both parties are involved in the fence being installed.
The same applies with boundaries between people, but the trouble is that there are often assumptions made that are vague and ambiguous. Also, when people share responsibilities for a boundary, there’s potential for misunderstanding and conflict.
Healthy relationships have healthy boundaries.
If you’re experiencing a relationship that isn’t thriving, you may want to investigate your own boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries requires education, and they are also skills that can be improved. The great thing is that boundaries are simple, powerful, and totally within your control. Once you understand them, setting them, and maintaining them, can become effortless.
Healing dysfunctional boundaries can take significant commitment, and you may encounter resistance. Getting support can help a lot. Lifehacker had a recent post entitled, “Being the Better Person Will Teach People To Treat You Like Crap“. This represents another situation where someone involved is clearly disrespectful. I concur, if you don’t adjust your behavior, you’re “co-signing” theirs by giving tacit approval. I think the title is a bit loaded, though, as they distort what being a “better” person really means.
Btw, here’s a tidbit from a colleague. Brian wrote about the “Three E’s”, a tool that he uses for setting boundaries, “Establish, Educate, Enforce.” Click through for more info.
This is a very brief introduction to boundaries. If you’re interested in learning more, leave a comment below, or contact me directly!